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Sanctuary cities bill protest draws hundreds downtown

As the so-called sanctuary cities faced scrutiny inside a federal court downtown Monday, hundreds including elected officials and the area’s leader of the Catholic Church, gathered outside to protest Senate Bill 4.

“When you have entire swaths of our community that are afraid to work with out police departments … that does not advance public safety,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the crowd. “That makes it more likely to have an intolerant community where people are afraid to talk to the police and we have a broken down community relations.”

As least 100 people had queued in front of the John H. Wood Federal Courthouse awaiting entrance to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s court for the hearing on a preliminary injunction request on Senate Bill 4, which punishes local governments who prevent police from asking about immigration status and requires jails to honor immigration detainers

Outside the courthouse, about 750 protesters were addressed throughout the day by various organization leaders.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller prayed to the crowd and then addressed the protesters.

“We are already divided. There is a lot of violence and a lot of anger,” Garcia-Siller said in an interview after the prayer. “A law like this, SB4, it just deepens the scenario.”

The hearing to block SB4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month, might take up to two days for oral arguments, according to a judge’s order in the case.

The United States, which filed a request late last week to be heard, will have 30 minutes to present its statement. The City of Dallas may have 15 minutes to make a statement and proposed intervenors the City of Houston and Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners will have 10 minutes each to make a statement, the judge’s order said.

Nirenberg was joined by other officials including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Austin Councilman Greg Casar and Houston Councilman Robert Gallegos.

Councilman Rey Saldaña and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff were inside testifying against the bill, Nirenberg said.

A few people occasionally chanted “Hey-hey, ho-ho, SB4 has got to go!’ as a stage was set up for speakers, with rain dousing the crowd at around 11:30 a.m.

At one point, a man identified only as Alex, who wore a “Trump 2020” campaign t-shirt caused an uproar when he began chanting “No illegal immigrants!”

San Antonio Alliance union organizer Katy Bravenec shouted in response “I’m an immigrant,” as he chanted.

The man tried to get around her, but she would not move when he put his hands on her shoulders and slightly attempted to push her back.

The man was escorted out of the area by Department of Homeland Security officers, who said he was agitating the crowd. They added that he could be escorted away because the group protesting there had a permit for use of the area.

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, recalled Proposition 187 when it was introduced to California legislation in 1994.

She said the bill was introduced in response to Latinos gaining influence in the area.

“They thought (Latinos) would leave the state and retreat into the shadows,” she said, comparing it to the bill . “That is why SB4 was passed. That is why it was an emergency item.”

During his prayer, Garcia-Siller asked for God to help all sides involved in SB4.

“We ask you to hear our prayer for reconciliation, that the separation between us may be overcome,” he said.

State and local organizations addressing the audience included the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, MOVE San Antonio and La Union del Pueblo Entero.

State Sen. Charles Perry, author of SB4, released a statement Monday afternoon saying that the law is not about taking on a federal immigration role, but partnering with law enforcement to keep those who commit dangerous crimes off the streets.

“The public understands that law enforcement officials should not help those found guilty of serious crimes, such as sexual assault and burglary, evade immigration detainers,” Perry said in the statement, saying there is much misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding the bill.

During the rally, state Senators Diego Bernal and José Menéndez said members of the senate voted no to amendments that would narrow down the scope of SB4 such as exempting victims of domestic abuse, giving a border patrol exam to law enforcement, and exempting crimes of traffic stops and jaywalking.

“We asked for compliance with the civil rights act, what do you think they said?,” Menéndez asked. “No,” the crowd responded.

“This bill is really a law that’s looking for a solution,” Menéndez said.

This story originally appeared 6/26/2017 in the San Antonio Express-News.